Travels along the Mekong
First published 5th August, 2006
Ben Walker's travel blog, Travels along the Mekong followed his trip through Thailand and Laos in November and December 2005. Part blog, part travel guide, part photo album, the blog stands out for its really useful trip-planning information and some terrific photos. Travelfish sat down over a couple of virtual glasses of wine to find out what makes Ben blog.
How did you get into blogging?
I have always kept some sort of travel journal/diary/record when on longer trips -- in some sort of notebook, the back of cigarette packets or scraps of paper. You tend to forget a lot of what you experience when traveling and, like photographs, scribblings bring back a plethora of other memories. Combining a written record of your journey with the added ability of uploading relevant photographs seemed like a good idea. And it would save me scrabbling around in overfull drawers for journals and random packets of photos. I also just wanted to have a go.
How long have you been blogging?
Since 28th August 2005 the date of first entry on the "Travels along the Mekong" site
Why do you blog.
Initially, I was traveling on my own. I always bring back loads of postcards, addressed and stamped. Phone calls are inconvenient with a seven-hour time difference and in the same time you can add an entry that is accessible to anyone who is interested.
Why did you choose to use Blogger? and would you use it again?
I looked at many providers. I wanted something that was simple and would chronologically order entries and enable photo uploads. I wanted something that wasn't intrusive without loads of advertising and add-ons. I wanted friends and family to log on if they were interested rather than having to register or be bombarded with e-mails. Yes I'd use it again.
You can sign up for a blogger account (it is free) here.
How do you blog?
I only used Internet cafes, a compact digital camera and an I-pod with photo connector. I travel light and wouldn't want to lug a laptop around.
How much time during your trip would you guess you spent blogging? An hour a day?
About 30 minutes. I usually had breakfast and went to the nearest internet cafe. I'm an early riser so I'm usually out and about 08:30 -- I'd read and send some e-mails and then catalogue the last day's thoughts. I would say I did this three days out of four. When I'd missed a day or two I'd need a little longer, maybe an hour, to catch up.
Many travel blogs tend to concentrate on what the blogger gets up to during their travels -- Travels along the Mekong certainly does that, but you also spend a lot of time linking off to secondary sources -- guesthouse pages, airline websites and of course loads of links to Travelfish -- why did you choose to do that?
By accident really. I often read up on where I am going before I go. I used to just buy the relevant Rough Guide or Lonely Planet guide, however over the last few years I have cottoned on to the fact that online guides such as Travelfish and Tales of Asia, to name but two, are more up-to-date than printed media. I started to use the blog as a space to record and link to those resources and it developed into a trip planning area where I could keep everything in one place, like interesting articles I came across about Laos. I must say that this coincided with a particularly slack period at work (don't tell the boss!) I also put the site address in my Lonely Planet Thorntree signature line. I got a lot of positive response (as well as the usual "nobody's interested in your bloody blog comments"). I was really just enjoying researching.
Were you surprised that some readers tried to bring school-yard bullying to your blog?
Not really. You will always get flamed whether it be on a message board or via a blog. I don't have to agree with people nor do they have to agree with me. Ces't la vie.
Sometimes your blog reads more like a travel resource than a blog -- your "What to pack list" is an excellent example (your pack must be huge by the way), but there's also bus timetables and other "howto" information in there. Was it intentional or accidental that the blog developed into such a resource?
I actually used the information in the blog when I got to Thailand and Laos, mainly to remind me of places that seemed good to eat or sleep. Ben Guesthouse in Chiang Rai was a good example. Five knackered people off a bus, fifty touts, look at blog, tuk tuk to guesthouse -- everyone happy.
Are there any online resources other than Travelfish and Tales Of Asia that spring to mind?
Man in Seat Sixty One. 2Bangkok (I don't know why I like it). The usual Air Asia, Nok Air and State Railways of Thailand especially the seat availability page (when it works!), and the Transport Company for buses in Thailand.
You've got a few quotes in there from the Lonely Planet Thorntree, but there's less from the people that you met during your travels. Do you think that surfing the web and blogging are slowly replacing the traveller's cafes and guesthouse foyers as a means for both gathering information and meeting people?
Yes and No. Looking back at it, you sometimes arrive somewhere and go with the flow, can't be bothered with planning and just look for a guesthouse with the people you met on the bus or a place that was recommended by someone you met the day before. In Vang Vieng nobody had any idea where to stay but didn't want to stay on Pizza Street or the Island. Riverside Bungalows, which I had forgotten about, suited everyone and was one of the best places I stayed.
Did you get more information for the planning of your trip from on-or offline sources?
Initially, for general ideas, through books. It was refined with online resources.
One of the things that stands out on your blog are the photos -- you've got some great pictures there -- how important would you say images are to a good travel blog?
"A picture is worth a thousand words". You can write hundreds of column centimeters about the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai but a picture will change that impression nine times out of ten. It's like watching a film after reading the book, nobody ever says "That's just how I imagined it"
While rich in images, you seem to boycott maps -- a common feature on many travel blogs -- why?
I thought about it and researched it. Most online maps I found of SEA were too small or large scale. You could plot your course from say Bangkok to Vientiane or at the other end of the scale narrow it down to postcode/zip locations. There wasn't much in between.
How important would you say blogging is to you when you're on the road? Would you decide not to go somewhere if you wouldn't be able to use the internet there?
At the end of the day it's a useful resource if it helps you with your memories, you enjoy doing it and it's taken at face value. I have had more positive comments than bad. The only negative is that you do stick your head above the parapet, which makes you a target for others. It's easy to criticise if you have nothing to say. End of rant.
Internet access is not important. It's just everywhere!
Thanks again to Ben Walker for taking the time to answer a few questions for us and we look forward to reading about his Sabah and Sarawak trip later in 2006.
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Blogeller is a series of interviews with bloggers that travel (or is that travellers that blog) -- lets just call them blogellers ;-) If you have a blog related to a trip in Southeast Asia and time for a few virtual glasses of wine, please add your blog address to this thread on the Travelfish messageboard and we'll check it out.
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